Archive | Day of Archaeology 2012

Randall Manor Calling! An update from our Community Archaeology Excavation in Kent, 2013

Randall Manor, Kent, 2013

Randall Manor, Kent, 2013

Not so much a day of archaeology, as a short review of a month of community archaeology at Shorne Woods Country Park, Kent! This was our eighth year of excavations on the site, making it the longest running community excavation of one site in the County! I planned things carefully this year so that we would dig through a heatwave! In total we worked for 27 days on the site, with over 20 people on site on most days, rising to over 40 on our busiest days! I’m very much a believer in Pat Reid’s description of community archaeology as being done by the people, for the people. Everyone on site is a volunteer, apart from me and my post is part funded by the National Lottery and partly by Kent County Council. All site supervision is undertaken by volunteers, as are responsibilities for finds, records, plans and sections…I just keep the juggernaut that is the Randall Manor dig rolling!

This year we wanted to answer some final questions about certain key areas of the site, before we backfill and also try to gain more evidence for the early use of the site, pre the buildings’ construction. We had four areas open, one at the south end of the site, one across the junction between our putative aisled hall and cross wing, one across the kitchen and we opened up a big new trench to the east of the kitchen.

Randall Manor, Kent

Randall Manor, Kent

Historically, our research suggests that there is a principal building on the site by the second half of the thirteenth century, with high status use of the site for around 100 years. After this the buildings are left to tenants before all occupation dramatically ends in the late sixteenth century, when the site is comprehensively demolished, perhaps as a source of stone for the construction of Cobham Hall.

Excavations this year have added to our growing understanding of the site. In the southern trench, it is now apparent that there was substantial attempt to expand the building platform to the south, burying a soil horizon in the process. Conversations with David and Barbara Martin (medieval building experts) also point to this end of the site forming the high end to the first high status building on site, complete with chimney and private garderobe?  All built over an early gully in which we have some good pottery evidence (to be analysed). There also seems to have been an attempt to create a revetted occupation area, outside the building.

In the trench over the aisled hall/cross wing join, we sunk a series of test pits that came up trumps with a ditch running under the buildings. This ditch had early thirteenth century pottery in its lowest fills…

The kitchen continues to provide fascinating evidence for the remodelling and phasing of the site. We now have a hearth and possible bread oven that lie under the later kitchen walls. This is in addition to a sequence of two tiled hearths and a stone hearth, all replacing each other and a series of patched and replaced kitchen floor surfaces….it will all take further teasing out!

Finally our new trench for this year! We suspected we might have another building, but have actually encountered a series of levelling layers, a trackway and occupation surfaces. Bags and bags of pottery from these and 3 lovely whetstones…

Just to add to the mix we also had a very nice Roman coin from one of the tile demolition layers and a pendant that needs conservation and cleaning work.

A really successful season with all credit going to the incredible amount of hard work put into the project by the many volunteers involved, both existing and new for this year.  5 schools dug with us, 2 on repeat visits through the dig; we also had a local Scout troop and 3 YAC groups digging on site. We organised and ran a weekend for visually impaired volunteers, in conjunction with the Kent Association for the Blind. Over 1,000 visitors had a guided tour of the site.

And….over our last weekend we had medieval re-enactors in the Park!

Lots of pictures at Contact for further info!

Possible Bread Oven

Possible Bread Oven

Knighting at Shorne Woods with the Woodvilles

Knighting at Shorne Woods with the Woodvilles 

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I, Dental Anthropologist

It's that time again! Third year of my #dayofarch posts... if you're dying to see how they've changed over the years, have a look at 2011 (augmented reality!) and 2012 ( i reveal myself to be the tooth fairy)...

Really, I work at the Natural History Museum in London (and tweet at @brennawalks / blog at ). And if you didn’t already know, I’m part of the collective Tumblr of awesome that is Trowelblazers ( @trowelblazers). We get all excited about inspirational female pioneers in the trowel-blazing arts :)


Archaeology, huh? Life outdoors? Fresh air?

Meh. Up to your hips in muddy water in February, more like it. That’s why I went and got myself a speciality….


Yes. I am a living, breathing example of the incredibly rare animal… the Dental Anthropologist. And yes, that’s a real thing.

What do I do? Well… today, I’m hashing out some code that will preform a simple spatial analysis that will tell me about the distribution of different types of tissue on a thin section of a tooth.

Before I could even get to this stage, however, there was a long and laborious process of making histological thin sections, digitally scanning histological slides, and then digitising lots of information from the tooth. But the end result will be that I will know to the day the ins and outs of someone’s childhood – growth faltering, chemical composition changes, and a host of other things that we can find out in the lab.

So why teeth? A few reasons:

1. Teeth don’t remodel. You grow ‘em once, and you’re stuck with them.

With the rest of your skeleton, remodelling can hide traces of past events — if you broke your arm as a child, you might not ever know from looking at your adult skeleton. Whereas everything that happens to your teeth as they are growing is crystalised right at the moment, leaving an unedited record of the time when your teeth were developing.

2. Teeth grow in a very regular pattern. Like tree rings.


Because teeth are so regular, we know exactly which bits are forming when. So if something happens to a kid, like a bad fever or a period of starvation, that disrupts normal development, we can work out exactly when it happened. Take a look at these lines, left on a tooth from when the individual was so sick that growth stopped for a time. If we magnify it in a scanning electron microscope, we can work out how old the kid was in days when growth stopped:


That’s fairly impressive for a kid who has been dead for almost 200 years!
3. Everybody Teethes
Almost everyone has teeth! Teeth usually survive really well in archaeological sites because they are heavily mineralised – sometimes they are the only part of a skeleton left. In my current work, I look at both the teeth from modern humans (super modern. Like, the subjects are still alive) and the teeth from children who died nearly ten thousand years ago a continent away in Central Anatolia.
Actually, I’m gearing up now to leave for the field to go and take some casts of teeth of children who lived at the site of Aşıklı Höyük right when people were sorting out that whole ‘to-setttle-down-and-farm-or-not-to-settle-down-and-farm’ question. The casting itself is a funny process, normally used by dentists, but turns out archaeologists can adapt just about anything…

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Dia da Arqueologia 2013

Alguma vez te perguntaste o que andam os outros arqueólogos a fazer? O projecto Dia da Arqueologia permite-te ver o dia-a-dia de arqueólogos de todo o mundo.

Este projecto pede a arqueólogos que estudam, trabalham ou fazem voluntariado em qualquer lugar do mundo para participarem num “Dia da Arqueologia”, todos os anos no Verão, registando o seu dia-a-dia e partilhando-o através de texto, imagens ou vídeo no website: Este panorama de um “Dia da Arqueologia” demonstra a vasta diversidade de trabalho que a nossa profissão realiza diariamente em todo o mundo, e ajuda a desenvolver no público a consciência da relevância e importância da arqueologia no mundo actual. Qualquer pessoa com uma ligação pessoal, profissional ou voluntária à arqueologia se pode involver nesta projeto, ajudando-nos a salientar as razões porque cada arqueólogo é vital para proteger o passado e informar o nosso futuro.

O projeto é gerido de forma não remunerada por uma equipa de voluntários, todos arqueólogos profissionais que trabalham em museus, universidades e entidades privadas no Reino Unido, Espanha e América do Norte.
A participação no projeto é completamente gratuita e requer poucos conhecimentos de blogging ou tecnologias web.
Todo o projeto do Dia da Arqueologia depende da boa-vontade e da paixão por comunicar com o público!

O primeiro Dia da Arqueologia teve lugar a 29 de Julho de 2011 com mais de 400 contributos, desde arqueólogos em trabalho de campo aos especialistas nos laboratórios e nos computadores. O segundo Dia da Arqueologia aconteceu a 29 de Julho de 2012, e mais de 300 arqueólogos participaram.
Este ano, em 2013, o Dia da Arqueologia terá lugar na 6ª feira dia 26 de Julho.

Se estiver interessado em participar, por favor registe-se, ou dirija as suas questões por e-mail para Esperamos que se junte a nós!

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Inspiring the Next Generation, Part 2: Creating an Excavation Exhibit for a Children’s Museum

Our project coinciding with the Day of Archaeology 2012 was to build up an “excavation” for children to dig at the Cheshire Children’s Museum in Keene, NH, USA. The excavation activity will be in the Egypt themed area. At first I fretted over how we could possibly replicate an Egyptian excavation within our 2 m x 1 m box (that just wasn’t going to happen!). I decided to focus on simply portraying a few main ideas–the measured square units that archaeologists dig; the idea of layers– so that this excavation activity would look more like archaeology and a little less like a sandbox.

I am very lucky that my husband Randall, an architect, designer, and person who knows how to make anything with fiberglass, agreed to help with this project. First we stacked sheets of foam into an excavation grid with several different “layers.” After a messy first attempt that caused some of our materials to self-destruct, Randall worked with sticky resin and fiberglass fabric to mold the excavation units and places for artifacts, while I made some “ancient” ceramic sherds out of pots from Agway. (As I mentioned in my preliminary post, it proved to be rather difficult to find suitable artifact replicas to purchase for the exhibit.) Later, we applied more sloppy glue and a bucket of sand to the fiberglass surface, and glued the artifacts into their layers (based on rather loose relative dating).

Creating archaeology = messy basement!

What a relief when we delivered this mold to the museum and it fit right into its designated crate! To this will be added some loose sand, so that children can dig and discover the artifacts. Setting the scene further will be excavation tools (or, children’s shovels, etc.) and grid indicators/measurements, and an Egyptian desert mural behind the excavation. In addition to digging, we plan to provide clipboards so that children can choose to draw or record their finds. Based on my 7-year-old’s suggestion, we’ll also provide an “artifact report”/ “fun facts” sheet for each of the artifacts. She and her sister are really excited to learn more about these mysterious items, so I’m hoping that will be true for all the local children who visit the museum!

The mock excavation table, in situ in its museum home.

If time, space, and budgets permit, I’d love to add additional activities or games, perhaps some puzzle activities for the younger children. But this is only one small part of a museum with many different topics and activities. So for now, if a few children share in the fun of discovery, and leave with some idea that real archaeological excavation involves those neat square holes in the ground,* or if a few children are inspired to learn about ancient cultures, we’ll be thrilled!


*My subliminal anti-looting message for the youngsters!

In addition to thanking Randall Walter, who did all the dirty work here, I’d also like to thank the Cheshire Children’s Museum for the opportunity to work on this fun project, and Rita Elliott, a fellow archaeologist who, although I have never met her, took time out to discuss with me ideas for “mock excavation” activities. Thank you!

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Digging in the Archives: Re-Discovering the Excavations of John D. Evans

I saw the poster for the Day of Archaeology (DoA) in our lift and thought I’d join in, looking at the importance of archives to the documentation and re-interpretation of older excavations. I planned to focus on archives related to the first century of excavations by a fairly eccentric cast of characters from the British School at Athens, at Knossos in Crete, where I am currently working. But in the event, I’ve been side-tracked in quite different directions, digging into the archives of John Evans, allowing me to dip into archaeology in five countries in one day, all without leaving an overcast London.

Last July, one of the former Directors of the Institute here in London, Professor John Davies Evans, died at the age of 86. I didn’t know John well, we had only met a few times, but we had a good talk at a workshop held at Sheffield in 2006, organised in honour of John and his excavations at Knossos in 1958-60 and 1969-70, which provide the entire framework for, and our most comprehensive evidence supporting, our understanding of the four millennia of the Neolithic period on Crete (see V. Isaakidou and P. Tomkins (eds) 2008. Escaping the Labyrinth. The Cretan Neolithic in Context. Oxford: Oxbow Books). As we talked, it was clear John was extremely pleased that his work at the site was still considered so fundamental, and he was also immensely relieved to be able to hand over the completion of its publication to others.

Fig. 1. Saliagos. Left: the islet of Saliagos; right: the main trench

I was working at Knossos on a current project when I learned of John’s death. I knew that while he had handed over much of his Knossos excavation archive, a large amount of the original documentation had not yet been collected from him. This was needed for the full publication of his excavations, and would eventually be archived in the British School at Athens.

Fig. 2. John Evans sorting Saliagos pottery on Antiparos

Via e-mail, I contacted his family, and we agreed that on my return from Crete in September, I would collect his academic papers, sort them, and determine how and where it would be most appropriate to archive them. With my Institute colleague Andrew Reynolds, and with help from John Lewis of the Society of Antiquaries, we collected all of John’s academic papers, and they have been taking up about half of my office ever since. (On the plus side, any meeting involving more than one other person has had to take place elsewhere – fa’coffee.)

Fig. 3. Excavations in the central court of the Minoan palace at Knossos

My original hope of sorting the papers over the Christmas or Easter breaks disappeared behind mountains of marking, and it was only last week, when I finished that and could take over one of our vacant teaching rooms to unpack it all, that I had a chance to find out what’s there. Now having consolidated it into some 40 boxes, in place of the odd assortment of boxes, suitcases, a filing cabinet, card and slide chests and a full chest of drawers, I now don’t have to slam my door whenever our fire safety officer walks by.

One of our recent PhD graduates who specialises in the history of archaeology, Amara Thornton, very kindly gave up her week to help me, and we’ve done a first sort of everything. So we now have an overview of the material, which allows us to approach others who we suspect may be interested in particular elements of the archive, and gives us an idea of the scale of the further detailed cataloguing which will be involved. I have no idea when we will be able to do this, and we will have to find some funding, as there will be a couple of months worth of work involved. But particularly relevant to today, are John’s excavation records, so let’s go digging in the archives, working, as archaeology usually does, from the known to the unknown.

I was familiar with John’s excavations on the tiny Greek Cycladic islet of Saliagos, co-directed with Colin Renfrew in 1964-65 and published in 1968 as Excavations at Saliagos Near Antiparos. [Figs 1-2 above] I talked a local boatman into taking me to the tiny offshore islet about 20 years ago to see the over-grown ruins, so seeing colour slides of the site under excavation was a treat. Colin handed over the bulk of the excavation archive to the British School some years ago, but John kept his correspondence and many slides, so I’ll copy a few for teaching, before I pack them off to Athens.

I was also very familiar with John’s Knossos excavations (Fig. 3 above and Fig. 4 below) from 1958-60 and 1969-70, through my own work at the site (our current project was the subject of a post for last year’s DoA by my colleague Andrew Shapland at the British Museum). The eight boxes of notebooks, finds lists, photos, and numerous rolls of plans and sections will be absolutely essential to complete the full publication of this major excavation. I’ve scanned and sent a couple of documents to Peter Tomkins in Leuven, which I know will help his current work on reconstructing the development of the Neolithic community.

Fig. 4. The deep sounding in the central court at Knossos

John is particularly well known for sorting out the sequence of prehistoric occupation on Malta, documented in his 1959 Malta in the classic Thames and Hudson ‘Peoples and Places’ series, and in more detail in his monumental survey of Maltese prehistory, The Prehistoric Antiquities of the Maltese Islands, published in 1971. [Fig. 5 below] Tucked away in the latter are extremely succinct accounts of small but strategic stratigraphic tests he did in 1953-55 in eight Maltese monuments, which enabled him to establish the cultural sequence used in his publications (and still valid) to organise the results from all previous investigations. I have found about 100 photographic negatives and some section sketches from these excavations, but so far, no detailed excavation notes, nor any plans; it is just possible he archived these in Malta, and any plans may be hiding among the many rolls of drawings which I have yet to sort through individually [Fig. 6 below].

Fig. 5. John Evans on Malta, 1954-56.

An exciting surprise was recognising several original excavation notebooks by other investigators on Malta, from 1911 to 1930, which John must have brought back to the UK to draw on for his synthesis, and over 300 early photos of sites and excavations, which should go to the archive of the National Museum in Malta. Some of these seem to have come to John from the Palestine Exploration Fund, and a note says ominously ‘Harris Colt Malta orig: throw away if not wanted 20s or 30s’ – thankfully he didn’t!

I’ve e-mailed a former student, Anthony Pace, now the superintendent for cultural heritage on Malta, to work out how best to return this material. I hope we can locate John’s excavation notes, and link these with his abundant photographic documentation. As well as photos documenting his own tests, there are some 600 negatives of pottery and other finds, only some of which were used in his 1971 volume. More significant are some 300 negatives representing site visits he made in the early 1950s, only a few of which were eventually published, which document the condition of many monuments half a century ago. Altogether, this might just be the spur for a busman’s holiday to Malta, which I’ve wanted to visit for over 30 years.

Fig. 6. Malta excavations 1954. Left: Hagr Qim trench E; right: Mnajdra trench C

What I wasn’t at all familiar with, were John’s unpublished excavations, and I spent the week dashing off to the library, doing web-searches or sending e-mails to colleagues and former students, each time I stumbled across a new paper trail. With some follow-ups this week, I think I’ve now got the outlines, and since none of them are in my own field of specialisation, they generate some of the excitement of discovery, without having to say au revoir to decent coffee.

The first surprise was an excavation John conducted jointly with Francisco Jordá Cerdá of the Seminario de Historia Primitiva del Hombre, in 1950, at the earlier Bronze Age Argaric site of La Bastida de Totana in south-east Spain. This was the last in a series of campaigns in a settlement with abundant intra-mural burials. [Fig. 7 below] I haven’t yet discovered any correspondence to indicate why John got involved, but he spent much of that year in Spain researching his PhD dissertation on the possible relations between Argaric Spain and Early Bronze Age Anatolia. The specifics of how he got involved in the project may eventually emerge from his papers, though I’ve found no clues so far.

Fig. 7. La Bastida, 1950. Left: the excavation area; right: jar burial.

An e-mail to a Spanish former PhD student, Borja Legarra Herrero, now working in both the Aegean and Spain, pointed me to the web-site of the recently resumed excavations at the site, now one of the largest field projects in Spai. There, and in interim publications, the directors indicate that in 2009 John had sent them the original excavation notebooks of his Spanish collaborator, which had been bequeathed to him in 1960, along with a photocopy of his own 1950 excavation notebook (still among his papers). [Fig. 8 below] Seemingly over-looked by John at that time, are 78 cards mounted with excavation photographs, primarily of burials in situ, identified by burial and context. These relate to the 1944-45 seasons of excavations, before John became involved in the project; there must be an interesting story of personalities and politics behind why these were sent to John, but whether we can piece it together from surviving clues at either end remains to be seen.

By chance, I had taught Roberto Risch, a co-director of the new project, during his MA nearly 20 years ago, and an e-mail out of the blue from me received a reply within a couple of hours (though he cut it short because the Portugal vs Czech Republic Euro 2012 game was starting – I guess we all have priorities).

Fig. 8. La Bastida, 1950, excavation notebook

While the notebooks John sent them have allowed members of the current project to restudy the original material for publication, they had not come across these photographs in any archive in Spain, and they have had difficulty reconstructing the contexts of individual burials. (Purely coincidentally, Borja and Roberto met at a conference in Denmark a few weeks ago, and had arranged to meet for dinner while the former is working with me, and the latter is on holiday, on Crete in August; Borja planned to bring me along, though hadn’t yet mentioned it to me – I think I’d better go via the cashpoint, just to play it safe.)

So the first of today’s tasks has been to finish scanning these photographs. Ultimately, I hope the originals will be returned to Spain for archiving with the other dig records and the finds in the newly built museum at the site. In the meantime, the scans should assist the study of the old material, which has been going on for several years, and Roberto is going to get back to me for higher resolution scans of some of the photos, for incorporation into the new museum displays.

The second surprise was a series of small notebooks, a few photographs, more negatives, a few small bags with potsherds, and a box with 1/3 of a skull, from John’s 1956 excavation of three Bronze Age barrows at Earl’s Farm Down, just east of Amesbury, ca. 6 kilometres south-east of Stonehenge. [Fig. 9 below]

John Evans at Earl’s Farm Down, 1956

Amara had her laptop with her, and a Google led to the Wiltshire sites and monuments record, which, while not seemingly aware of John’s excavation, noted the excavation of four nearby barrows by Paul Ashbee in 1956. A quick run up to the library to consult Ashbee’s 1983 publication in the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine confirms which barrows were excavated by John, so we can put them on the map. A contemporary report (by John – uncredited, but the typescript is among his papers), included in N. Thomas 1958, ‘Excavation and field-work in Wiltshire: 1956′ Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 56:238-40) provides information on each barrow, and indicates that these, as well as Ashbee’s excavations, were undertaken for the Department of the Environment, so this seems to have been fill-in employment just before John took up his appointment as Professor of Prehistoric European Archaeology at the Institute, to succeed Gordon Childe. [Fig. 10 below]


Fig. 10. Earl’s Farm Down, 1956, excavation notebook

A much later letter mentions in passing that John thought the finds were all stored in the Institute. On the off chance that there were more than the few sherds he had kept with the notebooks, I fired off an e-mail to my colleague Rachel Sparks, who manages our collections, only to get her out of office message – jury duty! However, that evening I got a message back that a search of the records suggests we have material from Earl’s Farm Down which wasn’t identified as John’s excavation in our records, so has been in that special limbo all collections have for under-documented material.

So the second of today’s tasks has been to see whether this material is from the barrows, and to get an idea of the potential size of a publication project. The writing on the bags is John’s, and the recording system matches that on the few bags he kept with his notes, so that’s confirmed (see Rachel’s DoA entry). There is a fair collection of material, and with it in the box were a few more negatives, as well as a few finds from other sites which had been mis-filed in the same box. So confirmation for me, a few mysteries back to limbo for Rachel to try to sort out – but fewer than she started her DoA with, so I’d say we’re winning.

Writing-up this excavation should be suitable as a student dissertation project, possibly for publication in WAM (I mentioned it in passing to Andrew Reynolds, the editor, and he’s interested), after which the finds and records should probably be archived with other local material in the Salisbury Museum.

A third surprise was that John conducted a single season of trial tests in 1972 in collaboration with local archaeologists at the Iron Age hillfort of Segovia in southern Portugal. John’s principal academic interests were in the Mediterranean Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, so what led him to get involved in a major Iron Age and Roman site? [Fig. 11 below] Hopefully there will be some hint when I can work through the documentation and correspondence systematically.

Again, purely coincidentally, his Portuguese collaborator, José Morais Arnaud, was completing his PhD at Cambridge when I began mine in 1980, and Teresa Judice Gamito expanded the 1972 trenches in connection with her own doctoral research in the early 1980s, publishing her thesis with BAR (Social Complexity in Southwest Iberia 800-300 B.C.), which we have upstairs, though we don’t have the Portuguese journal where she reported her excavations. Her summary indicates the importance of the excavation, providing the principal regional stratified sequence from the Late Bronze Age through the Roman conquest.

Fig 11. Segovia, 1972. Left: site; right, summit trenches

The documentation for this excavation is more extensive, involving several trench notebooks, photos, plans, sections and finds drawings, which I will need more time to sort through. Because the trenches were subsequently extended, I expect John gave his collaborators copies of everything, but I’m chasing this up with José to see if we can supply whatever may be needed for their archives, to facilitate future study.

Following this trial field season, John became Director of the Institute, and administration seems to have taken over his life (a feeling all of us are now experiencing) and he stopped fieldwork; he was only able to return to working on his excavations after his retirement, as several boxes of transcribed notebooks, finds and photo lists for Knossos, along with a large box of computer disks testify (now I have to find a working Amstrad computer, to read the disks, to make sure we have copies of all the relevant files).

Sorting the Segovia records, along with more detailed cataloguing of all of John’s papers, will have to wait until sometime in the winter at earliest, when I may get another chance to unpack the boxes. So I’ve just had to figuratively back-fill my excavation in the archives, until the next season.
But as a final surprise, my query to Rachel about Earl’s Farm Down, has turned-up other materials in our storerooms, brought in by John, and checking these with Rachel is my third task for the DoA, which she has noted in her own DoA account. As well as various small bits of pottery useful for teaching purposes, given to John by excavators during his early travels in Spain, which we may be able to document more fully (presently simply catalogued by site name), two more significant collections exist. We have the human and animal skeletal material from his excavation of six communal rock-cut tombs at Xemxija on Malta. Summary reports on this material were included as appendices in John’s 1971 volume, but more could now be done to study the human remains in terms of community demography, the health and life history of individuals, and the social and ritual contexts of burial; the much smaller collection of animal bones holds much less potential. The former would repay new study, particularly in comparison with more recently excavated material, and could make an excellent dissertation project for a student on our MSc in skeletal and dental bioarchaeology.

The second collection consists of two boxes of carbonised plant remains and soil samples (to which I can add another box John had at home) from Knossos. The site is one of half a dozen representing the earliest Neolithic communities in Europe, established ca. 7000 BC. The plant remains were originally studied as part of the British Academy’s Major Research Project on the Early History of Agriculture, with John taking enthusiastic advantage of the newly developed flotation recovery technique and fine sieving in his 1969-70 excavations. The botanical samples from the two different campaigns were distributed among different specialists in the UK and Denmark.

I had hoped we could track down all of these through the paper trail of John’s administrative correspondence for the project – I wasn’t expecting to find any still in London. Checking them, they are still in bags with their context labels (Rachel and I took the opportunity to replace a few fragile bags) so their study should contribute to our understanding of early agriculture in the Aegean. I’ve notified Valasia Isaakidou of Sheffield University of this material, as she is co-ordinating the study and publication of the environmental and bioarchaeological material recovered by John at Knossos.

Finally, still completely unexplored, are some rolls of plans and a box with the documentation and a few finds from several small excavations conducted by John’s wife, Evelyn Sladdin, before she started her undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge and met John. She published one, but the others, small Roman and Medieval digs, apparently not. I may have to pencil-in the ‘excavation’ of that multi-site box for the DoA next year.

So what’s next? My priority for the autumn and winter, to fit in around teaching, will be to catalogue the Knossos documentation, about five times as much as all the rest together, as this major excavation is actively being worked up for publication by a number of colleagues, and the full documentation is eagerly awaited. Peter Tomkins, who is writing-up the stratigraphy and pottery from John’s excavations, and synthesising this with his own extensive work with Sir Arthur Evans’ tests below the Bronze Age palace, is coming to London in September for a meeting at the Society of Antiquaries being organised to commemorate John’s career, so I hope we can start going through this material together then.

It’s frustrating to have started this ‘excavation’, but have to leave it – but then most real excavations are like that too. This has turned into a far larger, but also much more interesting task than I anticipated nearly a year ago when I contacted John’s family. From my conversation with John in 2006, when he was both pleased that his excavations at Knossos were still important, and relieved that their publication would be completed, I’m sure he would approve our excavating his archive, to make the material available to other researchers.

This Day of Archaeology marks the last attention I can give to it for some time, but has clarified what we have, and what we need to do next. Realistically, considering the job ahead (and there is a lot more to his papers than just his excavation documentation), I think it may be some time before I’ll see the floor on that half of my office again. It’s been busy but intriguing – and it isn’t often that one can dig into archaeology in five different countries in one day.

Today has also brought home forcefully three things that confront me every time I work on Knossian material: how productive and cost effective re-examining older material can be, despite the constant push to recover new evidence with up-to-date techniques; that we have a responsibility to squeeze as much information as we can out of what we dig up – it is a non-renewable resource; and how crucial it is to understand our own disciplinary history – who collected what, when and why – to understand that evidence most effectively.

I’d like to thank Judith and Mike Conway, John Lewis, Andrew Reynolds, Kelly Trifilo, Stephen Shennan, Cathy Morgan, Peter Warren, Sandra Bond, Katie Meheux and Gabe Moshenska who helped arrange for and assisted the transfer of the material to the Institute of Archaeology; Lisa Fentress, Reuben Grima, Borja Legarra Herrero, José Morais Arnaud, Anthony Pace, Colin Renfrew, Artur Ribeiro, Roberto Risch and Tim Schadla-Hall for responding to my queries; Stuart Laidlaw for scanning slides and negatives; Amara Thornton for helping me sort John’s papers and providing details about some of the colourful characters who dug on the then colonial ‘circuit’; Rachel Sparks for chasing Institute collections records, digging out John’s material from the Institute storerooms, and helping me look through it; and the DoA folks for coping with this submission.

All images from J. D. Evans archive.

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An Exciting End to the Day

The day turned out to be very exciting as, at last, we have entered the 21st century with satellite broadband. This morning, 3 minutes per Mb, yes you read that right. Now, unimaginable speeds.

Why does that matter so much? Time was, as a contracting archaeological surveyor I would have to go down to Edinburgh, over 4 hours drive each way, to look at databases and archives, and noted findings manually onto paper maps with pens and tippex. Now it’s all online, including reporting, and digital mapping has been a real headache.

Now I’ve no excuse. It has seemed to me recently that good skills in identifying archaeological sites in the field, interpretation and placing them in their historical context, which I’m good at, comes definitely second to being able to keep up with technological advances. It’s hard as an independent contractor, with no buzzing office full of IT geeks to help out and no salary to allow time out for training. Still, all that time I can now waste watching YouTube clips…

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Excavating a Beautiful 18th Century Landscape Garden

My day started at 5.30am to prepare for the long drive to the site,  the little inn where we have been lodged offers a large full English breakfast, which would really keep you going for most of the day, unfortunately though we are leaving too early so no breakfast, just a cup of questionable  coffee ( mostly due to the UHT milk supplied in the little plastic pre-dosed container) in my  room.  I knock on the door of my colleague to make sure he is awake and after 10 minute we leave toward our site.

We drive for 1 and a half hours on beautiful country roads , between spells of rain, sun and blast of strong me and my colleague joke about the weather changes that saying we are time travelling and we are quickly passing through each season of the year as the kilometers go by.  When we arrive on site we are greeted by our other colleague and the manager of the beautiful 18th century garden we are excavating, as we enter the garden a flock of roe deers with their babies run pass us and cheer all of us up!

The project is trying to relocate several features of the ancient garden  as the Lord that owns it  (is manor house is within the garden/ estate) wants to restore it to its former beauty.  Suddenly a heavy rain fall comes down and in few minutes rivers of water come down from everywhere, lightening and thunder seems to fall just next to us, and being in the middle of a woodlands is not really a safe place to be during thunderstorm… Thanks god the master gardener came to rescue us and with our extreme surprise and relief he takes us  to the house, he said we  have been permitted to use the “posh” toilets instead of the public one, and that he arranged for tea and coffee to be served to us to warm us up, since by then we were as wet as the pond we were excavating! In order to be allowed in the toilet the maid, with a horrified face requested us that we took off our boots and waterproof gear as we are too dirty to be allowed in even if only for the toilet!! So there we go in the toilet shoeless ( they were spotless)! Though we get rewarded by been offered proper coffee and tea in one of the tea room of the house, all accompanied by the most beautiful  and tasty biscuits ever! As we are terrorised to dirt or stain of mud the sitting we just all stand around (still shoeless) with our warm tea and lovely biscuits in the hand, and marvel at the fact that they gave  real delicate china tea cups and real silver spoons!!

The rain eventually stopped and we got back to the real world of archaeology, muddy boots and all. After few hours we pack our tools and head back toward  our little inn in what it use to be the first Saxon town ( or so the sign at the town entrance says) we time travel again for 1 and half our through the 4 seasons and eventually arrive to the inn, quick shower , something to eat in the little pub down the road and then  finally to bad to prepare for another day of archaeology and hopefully more silver spoons and lovely tea cakes!!

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Meeting the Challenge of Public Archaeology

Who knew that the meeting Kary and I would have with the folks at the Capitol City Museum in downtown Frankfort, Kentucky on Day of Archaeology 2012 would be such a pregnant one! and actually, as our picture shows, Kary IS pregnant…


Kary Stackelbeck and Gwynn Henderson just before we left for our incredible Day of Archaeology 2012 meeting

Our meeting was about planning an education project for school students to be held on National Archaeology Day in October at the site of an historic dairy atop Fort Hill in Frankfort. But by the time our meeting was over, 2.5 hours later, all of us in attendance (Kary, me, John, and Mike) had laid the foundation for a much longer-term project. It included a survey for all prehistoric and historic sites on the city park; and the development of a long-term research, education, interpretation, and management program for the sites.

For 2012, there will be visits to the local schools with artifacts already recovered from historic sites on the park to show students tangible remains of their local history; and tours will be held at the park, to engage the public and to kick-off the project.

WOO HOO!!!! This is what public archaeology is all about!! Archaeolgists and community members collaborating for the benefit of everyone and for the resource, too.

It just goes to show you, that in ANY aspect of archaeology, in the field or out of it, you don’t always know what you’ll find, and you need to be prepared for anything!!!

Hope everyone’s Day of Archaeology 2012 was as productive as Kary’s and mine!


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An Archaeologist Through Digital Era

I’ll write this post in Italian because I’m more familiar with my language: at the end of the post you’ll find an English abstract of my report.

La vita dell’archeologo digitale, nonostante il periodo che viviamo pieno di computer e “diavolerie” tecnologiche, è tutt’altro che facile: non è un problema soltanto italiano, seppure l’Italia è il Paese che meno a livello accademico sta facendo per mantenersi al passo e, mai come in questo caso, la colpa non è degli amministratori che ci governano. Personalmente mi ritengo uno dei fortunati che è riuscito a portare avanti la sua passione verso le nuove tecnologie fino al dottorato, che sto per concludere all’Università di Roma “La Sapienza”. I problemi sono molteplici e non è certo questa la sede per affrontarli, ma molta strada è ancora da percorrere, soprattutto finché ogni gruppo di ricerca si farà il suo digitale, invece che lavorare con gli altri gruppi per creare delle best practices comuni che possano armonizzare le grandi quantità di dati digitali che vengono generati. Da anni cerco di seguire il più possibile, attraverso convegni nazionali ed internazionali, i lavori dei principali gruppi che si occupano di Virtual Heritage, dalle esperienze di Frisher in Virginia, a quelle di Donaeu a Vienna, piuttosto che in Italia al CNR di Roma o presso FBK a Trento. Mi sono anche quest’anno fatto promotore di un incontro dedicato all’archeologia virtuale, dove sono state mostrate diverse indagini legate alla possibilità di comunicare l’archeologia attraverso i nuovi media digitali: il materiale ed i video dell’evento sono o saranno presto in rete.

Dal canto mio, le giornate scorrono piuttosto tranquillamente, tra scadenze da rispettare, vita da biblioteca, PC sempre troppo acceso. Negli ultimi tempi, per rimanere in tema al “Day of Archaeology”, per il mio progetto di dottorato sulle Terme di Traiano sto lavorando ad una riproduzione digitale dell’antica Roma in 3D relativa al tardo II secolo d.C., ovvero post adrianea ma pre-severiana, assolutamente in low-poly e naturalmente di tipo esclusivamente “visuale”, da paesaggio, che possa fare da sfondo coerente con la proposta ricostruttiva relativa alle terme, centro focale del mio percorso di ricerca. Naturalmente si tratta di una quantità di edifici impressionante che non è possibile modellare tutti da solo, sebbene come detto in modo molto veloce. Il primo passo è la necessaria raccolta di informazioni bibliografiche dalle quali recuperare misure, piante, prospetti, sezioni, le migliori delle quali possono anche essere utilizzate come blue-prints, li digitalizzo attraverso una fotocamera ma ultimamente anche attraverso il sensore dello smartphone, sufficientemente risoluto (5MP); questo naturalmente introduce una serie di deformazioni non controllabili, in genere cerco di stare il più attento possibile affinché il disegno sia in piano e la camera sia ortogonale ad esso. In Photoshop una passata al “lens correction” consente di correggere matematicamente le distorsioni più evidenti, il free trasform in seguito può aiutare a raddrizzare ulteriormente le linee più ostiche: bisogna sempre essere coscienti che questo tipo di procedimento non è scientifico, ma il mio obiettivo è appunto soltanto visuale. Un controllo all’istogramma ed il file è pronto per essere importato in AutoCAD, dove un’opportuna scalatura mi consente di verificare il grado di accuratezza dei vari elementi: in base a quanto detto prima, può capitare che un angolo del foglio sia coerente ma l’angolo opposto no, in tal caso bisognerà fare attenzione e proprio per questo motivo a volte faccio la scalatura su elementi del disegno con misure note piuttosto che sulla scala metrica. Prima della vettorizalizzazione, preparo i layer in modo opportuno, generalmente distinguendo tra pianta, colonne, etc. e nel caso dei prospetti tra scalea, podio, tetto. In CAD mi limito al 2D, solo in casi particolari mi accingo a fare delle estrusioni per il calcolo dei volumi, solitamente utilizzando la proprità “spessore” delle polilinee chiuse, una modalità di tridimensionalizzare il disegno che mantiene il desktop operativo del programma molto leggero per la scheda video. Sono pronto: apro 3DS Max, attraverso il link manager collego  il disegno di AutoCAD al file di Max (modalità che mi consente di riflettere automaticamente qualsiasi modifica che faccio in CAD dentro 3DS), imposto i layer per il 3D e inizio a lavorare. È importante ricordarsi sempre di non toccare mai i layer collegati. Con lo snap vertex e gli oggetti line e box procedo a ricalcare gli elementi fondamentali della pianta/alzato in CAD a cui poi darò la corretta estrusione: come dicevo, le digitalizzazioni migliori possono essere usate come blue-prints, sfondi di modellazione che aiutano a lavorare l’elemento 3D in modo più rapido e preciso, quando magari ci sono degli elementi architettonici che richiedono una modellazione cosiddetta “organica”. Il resto fa parte della normale operatività del 3D, che non sto qui a spiegare, magari presentando un WIP del lavoro relativo al Teatro di Marcello, la cui immagine apre l’articolo. Mediamente si riesce a lavorare un monumento in 2 giorni, a seconda naturalmente della complessità richiesta. La difficoltà sarà mettere insieme tutti i vari elementi cercando di rimanere entro i 10.000.000 di poligoni (Rome Reborn nella seconda versione ha superato quota 9 milioni): lo saprete al Day of Archaeology 2013, quando il mio progetto di dottorato sarà appena concluso.

English abstract

The digital era is very difficult today for an archaeologist: the most difficult consist in academia and university where the technologies and methodologies not are implemented yet. All over still remain at personal choiche of students, and a self-knowledge of it. Following the most important works of archaeologists and researcher around the world about Virtual Heritage, I promote this year the 3° seminar on Virtual Archaeology in Rome.

For my PhD project I working on an low-poly and visual (not scientific) Ancient Digital Rome in 3D at the end of II century AD. Tipically, my lasts “Day of Archaeology” are as this: in library I search for update bibliography about the monuments, digitalized plants and other images for blue-prints, importing in AutoCAD to vectorialize it (using layer named correctly) in 2D. In 3DS Max I link the CAD file for 3D: also in 3DS I use new layer for tridimensional data. Naturally, the sequence of 3D is the normal sequence in computer graphic. At the beginning of this post you find a picture of Theatre of Marcellus in WIP mode.

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